How I started with computers

A little while ago I wrote about how I started with Lotus Notes. When I read some other people’s descriptions, they told more of their background how they got into computers as well. This has prompted me to share (if anyone really care) how I started with computers.


Back in 1974 or 75 or so, when I was 5-6 years old, my then about 20-21 year old cousin from Blekinge (where my dad was born and grew up and where most of his family lives) moved up to Stockholm. After his military service in the Swedish navy (seems like most males on my dad’s side did the service in the navy, for some reason) he got a job at Hewlett-Packard. I think he started as a service technician. For the first few months he was living with my family, and he brought home a couple of different computers. Most of all I remember him bringing home a plotter one evening. I believe he even hooked it up to the phone line and downloaded some images that were then printed on the plotter. Some were just geometric patterns, but for many years I had a Snoopy cartoon created that night on my wall in my room.


In 1981 one of my good friends in school got a VIC-20. The first day he had it, we sat for hours in his room and typed in a program listing for a game from the manual. Of course it did not work. 🙂 My friend started programming in his spare time, but my parents could not afford a computer.

When I started 7th grade in 1982, the school had been choosen as one of the four schools in the country to participate in a new government sponsored program to increase the computer knowledge in schools and to develop a Swedish computer for school use. Some different products were evaluated, including (if I remember correctly) MicroBee, TRS-80 and a couple of other systems. In the end a brand new computer was developed, based on the 80186 processor and using CP/M-86 as operating system. My school recieved a number of older Swedish made computers, the Z80-based ABC 80 and ABC 800 while the new computer, called “Compis” (an abreviation of “Computer in School” and also meaning “friend” or “buddy” in Swedish) was developed.

The school decided to start a computer club, and I was there for the first meeting in fall of 1982. The school provided a room for the computers and a card reader. To get a pass card, you had to take 3 evening classes, led by older students or teachers, in Basic programming. Then you got your card and could use the computers any time the school was open and the computers were not used by a class.

I believe I went to the classes right after christmas 1982. My family spent the Christmas break in Blekinge, and I brougth some programming books, read them and wrote programs on paper since I did not have any computer.


Starting in January 1983, I was spending most of my free time in the computer room, learning to program mostly on my own or with help from fellow students. In 1984 we got some prototypes for Compis, and in 1985 the production version was released. The programming languages were COMAL (a structured language that was a mix between Basic and Pascal) and a version of Turbo Pascal 3. I quickly switched to Pascal, and (to my parents dissatisfaction) started spending every free hour in the computer room. I printed my programs on continuous sheets and taped them to the wall of my room so I could look at and read the code, make notes and then bring it back to school and fix any bugs. I even managed to convince the school to let me borrow a computer home over some vacations…

In Sweden, school is mandatory for 9 years, with 2 or 3 years “optional”, but in reality most students will go those extra years. Those last years are similar to what is called High School in the US, but it is (just like in Germany) called “gymnasium”. According to Wikpedia, they are comparable to “college preparatory high schools” in the US.

Since the 80’s, the system has changed, but at that time you had to choose between 5 different 3-year programs, where the subjects and hours were pretty much set. There were some small adjustments we could make, like choosing between psychology and philosophy. I took the “natural science program”, where the main subjects were math, physics, chemistry and biology. Of course we also had languages (Swedish, English and in my case German), history, geography, social science, sports, philosophy (in my case) and a few more.

The other programs were an engineering/technical, humanistic/languages, social studies and financial/economics

So why did I take this program? I hated math, and it was always one of my weaker subjects. Well, this program also included computer science and programming. That’s the only reason.

During these years, I wrote a bunch of different programs, including my first commercial product. It was a geography learning tool for use in schools, showing a country on a map and asking the student for the name and capital, keeping track of points, etc. I sold a couple of copies to a few schools.

I also started using modems at this time, we had a 1200 baud (later 2400) in the computer room, and you paid by the minute (since the phone company in Sweden charg by the minute, no flat fee for local calls). We even had our own BBS for a short time.


After graduation in 1988, I choose to take a one-year systems programming class at a different school. It was an intensive class, cramming 2 years into one by having classes 8 am to 5pm every day, with just a lunch break. and two short breaks in the morning and afternoon. Well, after about a week, the teachers said that the number of students were not sufficient to run the class. They had tried to get a few more to join, but they had to cancel the class. The class would start again in January 1989.

So I picked up the Yellow Pages and looked under computer companies. I called a few places about an internship, and at one company I got a positive response. They were looking for someone in their support department. I was asked to send in my paperwork, grades, etc. A week later I went to an interview with the head of the support department, who happened to live on the same island where I grew up and lived. The interview went something like this:

“Have you ever user Microsoft Word?”

“No, we used WordStar and another word processor in school.”

He started Word for DOS 3.x: “Here, type something”

I typed a few words.

“Select some text and make it bold.”

I selected some, not sure if I used the keyboard or the mouse. I had used a mouse just a few times in the past.

To make it bold, I had no clue how to do it. I knew ^K^B in Wordstar, and Alt-F in the Swedish word processor we also used in school. I saw “help” in the menu, so I clicked on it, and noticed that most commands used the Alt key here as well. So I first tried Alt-F (bold in Swedish is “fet”). I then realised it was an english version of Word, so I
tried Alt-B.

“Good. What is yor salary requirement?”

That’s how I got a job at Microsoft…


I worked at Microsoft that fall, and during the summer break next year. After I graduatued the systems programming class in December 1989, I alternated between Microsoft and teaching C programming and english at a gymnasium down the street. At the same time, I got my forst computer, a 386SX-based machine with 256 MB memory and 20 GB harddisk. I quickly upgraded the memory to 1 MB, got a better graphics card (Tseng Labs ET3000) and got me a 2400 bps modem from a co-worker at Microsoft. This is when I started visiting BBSes more frequently.

In April 1990 I started 11 months of military service with the 16th Fighter Wing in Uppsala, about an hour north of Stockholm. After the service I intended to go back to Microsoft, but I was hired by a company called Esselte Voice to program IVR systems (Interactive Voice Response). After two years of doing this, the company went bankrupt. I now had a 486 computer with a 200 GB SCSI harddisk, and 4 MB of memory.

A good friend of mine saw an ad in the newspaper for a publishing company looking for a tech support person, and in the same ad they also were looking for a journalist. I appled for both jobs, and amazingly enough, I got the job as a journalist, writing about PC hardware and software.


We are now at the point whee I started my article about how I got into Lotus Notes, and you can continue there if you haven’t read it already.


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